PAWTUCKET — Another one of the city's landmark historical buildings appears to be in trouble. The Pawtucket Armory Association, which operates the castle-like Pawtucket Armory that houses the award-winning Sandra Feinstein-Gamm Theatre and several other local companies, has been in receivership since the end of January.
Yvonne Seggerman, who serves a dual role as executive director of the Pawtucket Armory Association as well as The Gamm Theatre, confirmed the receivership action. Seggerman told the Times that due to the loss of the Jacqueline M. Walsh School for the Visual and Performing Arts as its major tenant, plus “current economic realities,” the Pawtucket Armory Association's board of directors decided to put the property into voluntary receivership. She added that she and the board share the hope that the situation will be resolved soon.
Seggerman stressed that The Gamm Theatre still has two and a half years left on its lease with the Pawtucket Armory Association and intends to continue on with its show schedule as planned. “We're safe and sound in our current home. The Gamm might just have a new landlord,” she said.
“Rest assured, our immediate and near-term future is on firm ground. We're really happy in our current home and we look forward to providing the same groundbreaking entertainment that we are known for,” said Seggerman.
Seggerman said that the board is exploring various options relating to the receivership status of the 48,000-square foot building, including those involving another potential owner. She said the board is also “working closely with the city” on the matter.
In 2002, the Pawtucket City Council voted to sell the Pawtucket National Guard Armory building to the Pawtucket Armory Association, a non-profit corporation, for $1. The Armory building itself, complete with turrets, was designed by William Walker & Sons and built from 1894 to 1895. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The annex was erected after World War II to house military vehicles for the Rhode Island National Guard units that were headquartered in the adjoining Pawtucket Armory. Abandoned in 1994, the building became a garage for the Pawtucket Police Department until its later transformation into The Gamm Theatre.
Besides The Gamm Theatre, which occupies a 4,500-square-foot brick annex that is built on to the main Pawtucket Armory, the building is occupied by several other tenants that include the Rhode Island Film Collaborative, Cox Communications, and T-Mobile. In addition, she said that the Pawtucket Armory Association rents out the Armory's 11,000-square-foot Drill Hall for private functions.
Last year, it was announced that the Pawtucket Armory Association and The Gamm Theatre were jointly embarking on an ambitious capital campaign to renovate the Drill Hall into a state-of-the-art, 340-seat theatre. The project was described as being key to the city's economic development and growth of arts education.
However, the Pawtucket Armory Association lost a substantial amount of rent revenue, about $200,000 annually, when the School Committee last year approved the move of the Jacqueline M. Walsh High School for the Performing and Visual Arts over to Jenks Junior High School to create an arts complex. JMW's principal and staff, and a large number of parents and students, lobbied in support of the move of the four-year-old arts high school, saying that Jenks would offer larger and more suitable space for the approximately 100 or so students who attend, plus offer room for expansion. The move was also designed to make Jenks Junior High School function as a “feeder school” for students interested in the arts.
Opponents of the merger pointed out that The Gamm being located in the same building as JMW would give the students more opportunity for participation and exposure to the arts. Morris and Phyllis Nathanson, who own the property located directly across the street, had indicated they would be open to leasing additional space to the arts high school to create a campus-like atmosphere. Critics also said the removal of the arts high school from the building would hurt the city's long-range plans to showcase The Pawtucket Armory as the cornerstone of a burgeoning arts district that was envisioned by the Doyle Administration as expanding along Exchange Street and into the city's downtown.
Further details about the receivership situation were not immediately available and attempts to reach Leon Boghossian, who is the current president of the Pawtucket Armory Association's board of directors, were unsuccessful as he was out of town.
Mayor Donald Grebien issued a statement calling the news that the Pawtucket Armory Association had entered into receivership “unfortunate.” He said, “My administration has had preliminary discussions with Association officials and we have also reached out to Citizens Bank, the major creditor, to begin the conversation about the Armory's future.”
Grebien further stated, “It is unclear at this time what course that future will take. Certainly, the renovation of the Armory building has become an important asset to the city and the facility a fixture in downtown Pawtucket. As we move forward, the city will explore, with the appropriate stakeholders, possible ways that we can help secure the future of the Armory, for what uses and under whose ultimate ownership.”
Grebien added, “For the interim, patrons of the award-winning Gamm Theatre should be assured that 'the show will go on' uninterrupted for the rest of its season, under the receivership.”